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Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Diet & Feeding


  • Feeding on large mammals:
    • Liver, heart, and intestines first to be consumed, generally (Mech and Boitani 2003)
    • Flesh, bones, and hide eaten (Mech and Boitani 2003)

Primary Prey

  • North America
    • White-tailed and mule deer, moose, musk-ox, caribou, bighorn sheep, elk, and bison (Bibikov 1982; Mech and Boitani 2003; Mech and Merrill 1998; Sullivan 1978)
  • Eurasia
    • Caribou, moose, red, roe and musk deer, moose, reindeer, bighorn and mountain sheep, mountain goat, antelope, and wild boar (Bibikov 1982)

Supplemental diet

  • Small mammals: rabbits and hares, voles (Mech and Boitani 2003)
  • Scavenged food
    • From other predators (Mech and Boitani 2003)
    • Near humans, garbage from dumps can be a large component of the diet; 60-70% of the diet of Italian wolves, who also consume domestic animals, deer, boar, small mammals (Boitani 1982)
  • Fruits and berries (Mech and Boitani 2003)

Feeding behavior

  • Remaining near kill for several days; depending on number of wolves in pack, size of kill, prey availability, and hunger level (Harrington and Mech 1979)
  • Gorging; up to 10 kg (22 lb) at one time (Mech and Boitani 2003)
    • Fasting for months if necessary
  • Dominant, breeding male and female feed first; limiting access to others including their offspring (Packard 2003)
    • Appeasement plays a role in feeding order of remaining pack members
      • E.g., Younger daughters approaching father in a low crouch (begging) gain feeding access before older daughters who do not exhibit such behavior

Mexican Wolf (C.l. baileyi)

Current diet (from McBride 1980; Merkle et al. 2009; Reed et al. 2006)

  • Ungulate prey species include elk, white-tailed deer, antelope, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, javelina, and mule deer
    • Composing > 80% of total diet
  • Domestic cattle less commonly taken
    • 4-20% of diet; based on two studies spanning 1998-2006 (Merkle et al. 2009)
      • Calves taken after weaned and separated from mothers
      • Yearling cattle often targeted
    • Cattle, horses, and burros targeted when humans depleted ungulate stock across the wolf's range
      • Calves taken after weaned and separated from mothers
      • Yearling cattle often targeted
  • Scavenge carrion
    • Often where hunters pile entrails during hunting season

Page Citations

Bibikov (1982)
Boitani (1982)
Harrington and Mech (1979)
McBride (1980)
Mech and Boitani (2003)
Mech and Merrill (1998)
Merkle et al. (2009)
Packard (2003)
Reed et al. (2006)
Sullivan (1978)

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